“It comes and goes, and I’m grateful to be at a place where, thanks to medication, a great therapist, and slowly accrued coping skills, I can usually keep going without grinding to a total halt,” says tumblr user Sinope regarding her years-long battle with depression. In times of anxiety or darkness, though, it can be hard to remember what might make you feel better—so she shared a list of simple questions she asks herself before giving up.
The questions are particularly useful now, since so much of the population is experiencing a mental health crisis due to social isolation, financial strain, and other anxieties related to the pandemic. Sinope acknowledges that all the questions don’t apply equally to everyone, since she’d originally written them just for herself. “I wrote it for my own body, but not everyone has the physical, mental, or financial ability to do all the things I suggest,” she says. Please feel free to ignore or adapt these guiding questions to fit your own circumstances, and above all, focus on self care and your kids’ mental health in ways that are meaningful to your family. This list is a great place to start—ask yourself or your child:
Are you hydrated? If not, have a glass of water.
Have you eaten in the past three hours? If not, get some food—something with protein, not just simple carbs. Perhaps some nuts or hummus?
Have you showered in the past day? If not, take a shower right now. (Though to be honest, many people’s “new normal” doesn’t include daily showers—just take care of whatever hygiene makes you feel good.)
If daytime: are you dressed? If not, put on clean clothes that aren’t pajamas. Give yourself permission to wear something special, whether it’s a funny t-shirt or a pretty dress.
If nighttime: are you sleepy and fatigued but resisting going to sleep? Put on pajamas, make yourself cozy in bed with a teddy bear and the sound of falling rain, and close your eyes for fifteen minutes—no electronic screens allowed. If you’re still awake after that, you can get up again; no pressure.
Have you stretched your legs in the past day? If not, do so right now. If you don’t have the energy for a run or trip to the gym, just walk around the block, then keep walking as long as you please. If the weather’s bad, drive to a big box store (e.g. Target) and go on a brisk walk through the aisles you normally skip. (Of course this might not be safe given Covid-19 spread in your area. Please observe local safety guidelines.)
Have you said something nice to someone in the past day? Do so, whether online or in person. Make it genuine; wait until you see something really wonderful about someone, and tell them about it. Right now, your kids or partner are a great target for that praise. We’ve been cooped up together for almost a year now, and it goes a long way to spread kindness right at home.
Have you moved your body to music in the past day? If not, do so—jog for the length of an EDM song at your favorite BPM (beats per minute), or just dance around the room for the length of an upbeat song.
Have you cuddled a living being in the past two days? If not, do so. Don’t be afraid to ask for hugs from friends or friends’ pets. Most of them will enjoy the cuddles too; you’re not imposing on them. Sinope adds, “Not everyone has local friends, family, or furry creatures to ask for hugs. I’ve been in that situation before, and it’s tough.” Prior to the pandemic she suggested alternatives like “volunteering to help with animals, joining local interest groups to make friends, politely approaching strangers at a dog park, etc. Stuffed animals aren’t the same, but for me, they totally help too.”
Do you feel ineffective? Pause right now and get something small completed, whether it’s responding to an email, loading up the dishwasher, or packing your gym bag for your next trip. Good job!
Do you feel unattractive? Take a selfie. Your friends will remind you how great you look, and you’ll fight society’s restrictions on what beauty can look like. Or don’t post the photo at all—simply look at it and challenge yourself to say at least three kind things. If you find it difficult right now, imagine you’re talking to your best friend—what would you say to them?
Do you feel paralyzed by indecision? Give yourself ten minutes to sit back and figure out a game plan for the day. If a particular decision or problem is still being a roadblock, simply set it aside for now, and pick something else that seems doable. Right now, the important part is to break through that feeling of being unable to move forward, even if it means doing something trivial.
Have you seen a therapist in the past few days? If not, hang on until your next therapy visit and talk through things then.
Have you been over-exerting yourself lately—physically, emotionally, socially, or intellectually? That can take a toll that lingers for days. Give yourself a break in that area, whether it’s physical rest, taking time alone, or relaxing with some silly entertainment.
Have you changed any of your medications in the past couple of weeks, including skipped doses or a change in generic prescription brand? That may be screwing with your head. Give things a few days, then talk to your doctor if it doesn’t settle down.
Have you waited a week? Sometimes our perception of life is skewed, and we can’t even tell that we’re not thinking clearly, and there’s no obvious external cause. It happens. Keep yourself going for a full week, whatever it takes, and see if you still feel the same way then.
Finally, she adds, “[tumblr user] teiledesganzen had a really great addition about hormones, and how (especially for people experiencing PMS, menopause, or trans* related hormonal changes) they can have a big impact on mood and outlook. So that’s another important thing to consider.”
Above all, remember this: You’ve made it this far, and you will make it through. You are stronger than you think.